Monday, 9 February 2009

Of Rights and Wrongs

Where does the self-created Euromeets Consortium, composed of the promoters of the major European athletics meetings, obtain the right to deny the British public seeing its fastest sprinter in action? Why does the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) refuse to take action against a policy that infringes its (and those of the World Anti Doping Agency - WADA) code regarding doping? Why does UK Athletics allow its promotions’ arm Fast Track to deny its fastest sprinter the competition he needs to achieve medals internationally? How does the BBC regard the non-appearance of the country’s top sprinter on its screens? What does Aviva (the major British athletics sponsor who has invested £40 million in athletics up until 2012) think about media attention being diverted from their meetings as long as Dwain Chambers is elsewhere? You have to ask the question: who is running athletics and you have to suspect, to quote a British idiom, that the tail is wagging the dog.
The attempts by various organisations to circumvent the rules of WADA and the IAAF by introducing caveats and by-laws to suit their moral judgment is doing enormous damage to athletics in particular, cementing its reputation as a drug-ridden sport. For every time a former banned athlete appears at a notable meeting it sets up what Chaucer called a “wepe, and wynge and waille”, sparking huge debate which overshadows any publicity given to the event itself.
The Euromeets Consortium, a shadowy group with, it appears, unlimited power, lives in an opaque bubble. Year after year its members serve up the same athletics fare seemingly oblivious to the fact that the days when they attracted large audiences on European terrestrial television are long gone; now they scramble for coverage from satellite companies mainly because the viewing public has become totally bored with what they see. This out-of-touch body feels it has the right to practice restrictive practices but the fact that their meetings are part of the wider IAAF World Athletics Tour, with its million dollar jackpot, surely negates that point of view. Indeed it could be said that the IAAF is conniving in a restrictive practice because former banned athletes cannot compete for its lucrative prize. Yet it takes no action.
The Consortium obviously collectively feels that it holds, along with the British Olympic Association (BOA), with its lifetime ban, the moral high ground on drug taking in sport. They do not. They do not because by circumventing the universally accepted WADA rules by instituting their own by-laws they are flouting natural justice. And you can be sure that the proposed four year ban won’t satisfy their lust for greater punishments and more draconian abuses of athletes’ human rights with the “whereabouts clause”. And UK Athletics, anxious not to be found wanting, has joined the club by adding a ‘quarantine’ year to whatever universal ban is implemented, so that an athlete can prove, in an as yet unspecified manner, their ‘commitment to drug-free sport’.
The problem of drug abuse in sport is compounded by the fact that it is a highly emotive issue. To those who would like to see it become a criminal offence there is, seemingly, no greater crime. Organisations like the Euromeets Consortium and the BOA are trying to bring in lifetime bans by the backdoor. They are like the Wild West cowboys at Tombstone who would rather put a bullet through the heart of any man who cheated at cards than accept the ruling of the sheriff.
At the centre of all this is the much maligned Dwain Chambers. It is now annoying some that he is still attracting media attention, deviating the press away from our major televised meetings (who have actually banned him). The maligners just wish that he would creep away so that British athletics can resume its serene downward path. You have to remember, however, that all the brouhaha over Chambers’ reappearance in the sport this time last year came about because of UK Athletics totally misguided (through not knowing the rules) attempts to stop him running and its inefficiency in not testing him once his ban was over.
British athletics’ misfortune is not so much that Chambers took performance-enhancing drugs but that he got caught up in the biggest drug controversy in sport, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) scandal in the United States. It is, of course, compounded by the fact that of all those British athletes who have served bans and returned to the sport he has been the most successful.
We are now just a few weeks away from this whole controversy boiling over again at the time of the European Indoor Championships in Torino when a biography of Chambers is also timed to be published. There is a strong likelihood that he will become champion and the television pundits and athletics press (what’s left of it) will have the proverbial field day with the European Indoor champion being banned from European meetings.
What those who publicly lament Chambers’ return to the sport must realise is that he has every legal right to compete and he is not going to oblige them by returning to oblivion. If they are to douse the fires of controversy, that they abhor, then they have to accept that fact, understand that they are consolidating the public view that athletics is a drug-ridden sport and cease their “wepe and wynge and waille” every time he appears so that other successful British athletes can get the publicity that they deserve.


Anonymous said...

One might complain that there are worse crimes in life than cheating at sport but that would be ignoring the fervour that sport engenders - it's the Bill Shankly syndrome. It would also ignore that cheating at some sports involves gaining huge sums of money by false pretences so yes, this cheating does take on a criminality.

However, criminals are allowed to serve their time and try to go straight, subject to regular checks by probation officers. So should not sports people who have strayed be given at least a second chance. I hate the lazy journalist short hand that has to describe anybody who failed a drug test - in very dubious circumstances in some cases - as disgraced Joe Bloggs or convicted drugs cheat Charlie Farnsbarns.

As I said at the top, cheating at sport how serious is that? But pity the athlete who although he has not cheated and never intends to cheat has to report his whereabouts - for at least an hour a day - to his probation officer. Pity the athlete with a heavy cold who cannot resort as you or I can to the shelves of the pharmacy for relief in case the gobbledygook on the label hides a banned substance (see my point about dubious circumstances above). And don't let's wander into the nandrolone fog.

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